Early spring, the dog ticks start to emerge. We have dogs, so keeping watch for these annoying creatures is something we are diligent about. We treat our dogs with the latest flea and tick medicines from our veterinarian, but we don't treat ourselves, and it never fails that we find one or two ticks crawling on our skin each spring.
Although there are several species of ticks, the American Dog Tick, Dermacentor variabilis, is the most common. Also called the wood tick or hard tick, they are not actually insects, but are really arachnids, related to scorpions, spiders and mites. As adults, they have three pairs of legs and one pair of antennae.
They live in tall grass and weeds and will wait patiently for a warm-blooded animal to walk by. Dog ticks go after larger animals, like raccoons, dogs and humans.
If you live in northeastern Ohio, chances are you've encountered a dog tick. They are most active from April to June and are least likely to be seen later in the summer and fall.
Ticks are annoying, especially the dog tick, but what many people don't realize is they can be dangerous, as well. The American Dog Tick is the transmitter of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and other diseases, including tularemia, also known as rabbit fever, and an infection of the white blood cells called ehrlichiosis. The good thing is, we've learned to identify and watch for these ticks and know when to expect them.
But there seems to be a rising population of another tick that isn't common to northeastern Ohio. It it so uncommon, in fact, that even recently doctors refused to test for the main disease this tick transmits, believing it didn't exist in our neck of the woods. The tick is Ixodes scapularis, or deer tick, and it carries Lyme disease.
According to Mineral Ridge resident, Janet Decesare, the tick has been around longer than most people think and the disease has been here a long time, too - not just because she has it, but because she has had it for more than 12 years.
In her book, ''Ticked Off,'' Decesare believes she encountered the tick that infected her with Lyme while gardening in her bare feet.
Shortly after, Decesare describes the round, scaly spot on her right foot.
Her doctor diagnosed it as ringworm, but his treatments didn't work. After years of symptoms that included fatigue, weight gain and joint pain, she finally was diagnosed with the disease, but her doctors admitted they didn't know how to treat her. Decesare eventually had to travel outside of Ohio for treatment. Decesare's experience was in the late 1990s and although the tick and the disease is beginning to get more attention, some would say it's still not enough.
According to the Ohio Department of Health, in 2010, 47 deer ticks were positively identified in Ohio and 43 cases of Lyme disease were reported. Since 1990, 1,035 cases of Lyme disease were reported in 83 of Ohio's 88 counties, the ODH report states. Half of the people who developed the disease said they did not travel outside of the state.
Although the first symptom of the disease is the "bulls-eye" rash, only 60 to 80 percent of those affected get that particular symptom. Other symptoms, according to the ODH, are muscle aches, general tiredness, fever, swollen glands, headache and joint pain. There are other, more severe symptoms, as well, and symptoms can differ from person to person.
Don't let the fear of Lyme disease keep you out of the garden, but it is best to be aware of potential dangers. Wear long pants and shoes with socks while gardening. Keep leaf litter picked up around trees and wooded areas that you frequent, and be sure to check yourself and your pets regularly.
If you want to hear more about Decesare and her experience with Lyme disease, she will be speaking and signing her book from noon to 5 p.m. Aug. 27 at Living Naturally Health Food store in Boardman.